Similarities and differences in exercise for athletes and ordinary people.

Exercise is imperative for health and wellbeing. With Athletes in competitive sports, however, it’s a different ball game. Athletes need to be taken care of during exercise training, both pre-competition and post-competition since their bodily requirements differ to those of a regular Jane or Joe.

Exercise for athletes

Exercise is the best gift anyone can give themselves.

Exercise is proven to have amazing long term effects on overall mental health and wellbeing. Exercise, sports and physical activities are used to treat people struggling with mental health.

While the impact of exercise is beneficial for anyone, with athletes in competitive sports, it’s different.

First, lets us discuss the general benefits of exercise.


There was an experiment conducted, where the participants were divided into three groups, the group which was given monitored exercise showed significant improvements in their mental health compared to other groups that were given relaxation treatment or no treatment.


There is an immediate reduction in anxiety after exercise. Sports have proven to be extremely helpful to people with anxiety disorders.

Self Esteem

Actively engaging in sports and other physical activities can be great to change the self-image of a person. It results in a higher sense of achievement and body satisfaction. If you are someone having problems with self-esteem in other areas of life as well, exercise and sports could do wonders to your overall life.

It is very clear that exercise has an immensely positive impact on the wellbeing of an individual. But, when it comes to competitive sports, the findings are quite ironic.

Para athlete sprinting at the Paralympics

The wellbeing of athletes in Competitive sports

We assume that the wellbeing of athletes in sports is sound and strong. But, when we take a closer look at the research and lives of athletes in competitive sports, we realize that as the competition increases there is an increase in psychological problems too. Normally sports are intended for fun or relaxation, But in professional sports in highly competitive settings, it’s different.


It is very clear to have performance pressure in the case of elite and professional sports. It is observed that athletes have pre-performance distress and post-performance stress.

It is obvious that sports is one domain of their life and it causes an impact on other aspects of their lives as well. A study about the top athletes reveals that there are external stress-causing factors like relationships, health concerns and even financial issues and several other reasons

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High expectations and demands in both forms, physical and psychological result in depression among the elite athletes. Due to higher social status and image, they are more vulnerable to symptoms of clinical depression. Specifically during phases of staleness.

According to a study, 46.4% of Australian athletes report some kind of mental disorder and 27.2% reporting symptoms of depression.


Performance anxiety is normal when it comes to athletes. The athletes with higher self-esteem feel less anxious compared to those with low self-esteem.

Anxiety becomes an issue when it becomes habitual and constant. Research says that young athletes are more vulnerable to competition anxiety.

It is not just the competition anxiety that the elite athletes have, common symptoms of social anxiety are also observed, Along with such issues comparison with other athletes even when there is no competition triggers anxiety.


Athletes, on a competitive level, have a high pressure of performing better than competitors, they practise a lot and train ferociously to attain a competitive advantage. They end up overtraining. While the purpose of this is to enhance physical strength, exercise and performance, the impact on well being is disastrous. According to Wrisberg & Johnson, overtraining causes a negative effect on the quality of life and creates disturbances with the mood. Overtraining also results in major psychological distress, resulting in disturbed subjective well being.


Staleness and over-training are very related, over-training occurs when an athlete is not getting enough recovery after training. When they are trapped in this cycle, it results in staleness, this results in severe psychological disturbance.

Staleness is also referred to as burnout, where the athlete reaches the saturation level of training and practice, resulting in underperformance.

According to a study, staleness can result in clinical depression and decreases the quality of life. Another study shows that almost 60 percent of elite athletes have at least once been through staleness throughout their lifetime. Staleness even occurs in young athletes, it ranges from 5% to 21% in college students and elite swimmers.

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Exercise Dependence

It is found that athletes who train religiously develop an exercise dependency. According to a study the process to diagnose exercise dependency is very similar to understanding any other form of addiction. This basically denotes how serious issue dependence is.

Studies say that about 26% of men and 25% of women runners show exercise dependence. Exercise deprivation results in a decrease in the quality of life of an athlete and causes psychological distress. Approximately 74% of runners experience discomfort when a session is missed. Deprivation also creates a negative impact on the overall self-image of the athletes too.

Depression in athletes and exercise. Image of person sitting in a corner sulking

Eating Disorders

Regulated diet and heavy training create pressure on physical and psychological behaviours of athletes, resulting in disordered eating. Elite athletes are more vulnerable to such disorders than the general population.

According to an article, 59% of young male athletes were not satisfied with their body, 19% were dieting and almost 11% were suffering from an eating disorder.

Athletes are in psychological pressure to have an ideal physique, creating a distorted diet after training resulting in disordered eating.

There are certain sports where the athletes’ performance is categorised based on weight and there are sports where low body weight improves the overall performance or high body weight improves the performance. Athletes in such sports are more vulnerable to symptoms of eating disorders. Female athletes in those sports where slenderness is important for performance are also vulnerable to develop eating disorders.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse and consumption of banned products is also an important concern, especially in highly competitive sports. Athletes are found to be using substances for better performance and strength. This eventually results in addiction and other adverse effects on mental health, low quality of sleep, and a lot more problems.

Final Thoughts

Being an athlete or a sportsperson in a highly competitive environment is not easy. Athletes need to be taken care of during exercise training, pre-competition and post-competition. If you are an athlete reading this, take care of yourself!

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